A new invention in GPS technology would rid your car of the distracting screen and let you understand the directions even if you’re yakking away on your mobile and can’t hear the spoken instructions.
Instead of animated graphics or a computerized voice, technology being developed at the University of Utah gently tugs on your index fingers to tell you which direction to turn. Researchers hope the invention could improve safety by providing immediate tactile feedback that lets you stay focused on the road. Last month, a bus driver in New York crashed the vehicle into a railway bridge, killing four passengers. It was later revealed that he was distracted by his GPS.
“It has the potential of being a safer way of doing what’s already being done — delivering information that people are already getting with in-car GPS navigation systems,” says William Provancher, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the university.
The device uses two rubber tips — pair of trackpoint buttons taken from an old IBM ThinkPad laptop — on the steering wheel that move in the direction the car should be traveling to reach its destination. The tips gently tug on the skin of the driver’s fingers, moving about one millimeter to the left or right, telling the driver which way to turn.
To test the concept, the university had drivers attempt to follow a GPS while talking on a mobile phone. Those who relied on the traditional GPS only managed to take 74 percent of the directions correctly. Drivers who had the finger-tugging haptic system got 97 percent of the commands right.
That isn’t to say the researchers want you dialing and driving. The study “doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive and talk on the cell phone,” says David Strayer, a professor of psychology who worked on the project. “It was a test to show that even in situations where you are distracted by a cell phone, we can still communicate directional information to the driver via the fingertips even though they are ‘blind’ to everything else.”
Provancher wants to commercialize the tech and says he’s had preliminary talks with three automakers and a European equipment manufacturer. It could be on the market within three to five years.
He hopes the technology goes beyond the dashboard. Similar technology could be used into a cane to help blind pedestrians navigate more easily. They also could be installed in handheld devices like MP3 players to feel movements through a touchscreen or scroll wheel with gentle pulses in your skin rather than clicks or vibrations.
This story was written by Mark Brown of Wired UK.
Photo: Justin Lukas / University of Utah. Nate Medeiros-Ward, a psychology doctoral student, operates a driving simulator with a steering wheel featuring haptic GPS technology.
Via Wired Autopia: http://www.wired.com/autopia/